By Ollie Gratzinger | Features Editor
College isn’t cheap. That’s no secret. A wise and well-meaning high school teacher once told me that my university years would be the most expensive of my life, and with a second year of ramen noodles for dinner in full-swing, I’m absolutely positive she was right.
But university expenses can often go far above and beyond the already outrageous tuition costs, the subpar-but-overpriced meal plans and the living accommodations that make you long for a moment’s privacy. According to NBC News, college textbook prices have risen a whopping 1,041 percent over the last forty years. Overall US inflation, or the increase of prices and the decrease in money’s purchasing power, has only grown by 308 percent over the same period of time. There’s a number worth memorizing for the next time your weird uncle brags about putting himself through college in 1970-something.
The insane price-gorging of school books isn’t only ridiculous, but it’s fundamentally wrong in every possible way, and corporations keep finding ways to make it even worse. In the past, the rapid advancement of technology has allowed for the creation of different buying options to accommodate students of various financial backgrounds, from Amazon rentals to e-book variants of the same material, to even taking chances with older, cheaper editions. But with the introduction of access codes and “connective learning,” options like these are becoming rather limited.
Access codes require that you purchase the book new since you can only use them once and, in some cases, you can’t buy them on their own. Even when you can purchase them independently, you’re still looking at upwards of $150 for a string of numbers that’ll teach you the same thing you could learn the good ol’ fashioned way.
When you shell out your cash for these codes, you’re not paying the authors that dedicate themselves to making a quality book, but rather the corporation dead-set on getting rich off of the college student’s dime.
For example, McGraw Hill is one of the main suppliers of textbooks, as well as one of price-hiking’s notable offenders. McGraw Hill is a subsidiary of S&P Global, a corporation that grosses an approximate 5.6 billion dollars every year. With an annual income that could afford about 1.2 billion pumpkin spice lattes, I sincerely doubt that it runs on the cash you cough up for access codes and textbooks. But then again, making education accessible for all has never been in the interest of America’s financial elite.
Students are captive consumers; they face a relatively limited number of competitive suppliers, and as a result, the only choice they’re left with its to buy the overpriced book or drop a class that they might need, simply because they can’t afford the access code that grants them access to the online platform. This only serves to make education unattainable for far too many, thus furthering the worrisome divide between the underprivileged and the wealthy, entitled elite.
The sad truth is that we no longer live in a time during which good grades, initiative and hard work can get you anywhere you want to be. Once upon a time, that was the crux of the American Dream – which, granted, was always a tad hypocritical at best and, at worst, aggressively classist. But regardless, the Dream is dead; And the space it occupied in our society has been filled to the brim with corporate greed. Success isn’t measured by what you know, but rather who you know. If you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you just might have to work twice as hard to get half as far.
Yes, textbook prices suck, but they’re more than just an inconvenience. They’re a symptom of a larger socio-economic disease. By charging unreasonable amounts for required course material, corporations are limiting the kind of people who can excel in college, all while punishing disadvantaged students for things far beyond their control. Affordable alternatives are being stripped away, and the only options left just so happen to be the priciest of the bunch. Convenient for big business, but taxing on the average working-class student.
Maybe this is an inadvertent outcome of commercial gluttony. Maybe high prices and access codes and whatnot aren’t meant to target underprivileged kids. Maybe the high-ups in the offending corporations just have their heads shoved so deep in their own pockets that they don’t see how their “intuitive software” is harming people. Or maybe they do know, and the apathy that so often accompanies privilege has settled over them, leaving them blind to the fact that their actions, however well-meaning or self-serving they might be, are not without consequence.
Regardless, the fact remains that the price of higher education has risen to an unacceptable level, and with all things considered, I think it’s fair to say that textbook companies like McGraw Hill will continue to make books even less affordable. Why? Because it can. Because as of now, there’s no way around it. As captive consumers, we’re forced to pay up or pay the price of failure.
And if you don’t see how that’s a problem, you’re either privileged enough to be complacent or callous enough not to care.